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Straight Man: A Novel Paperback – June 9, 1998
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First Jane Smiley came out of the comedy closet with Moo, a campus satire par excellence, and now Richard Russo has gotten in on the groves-of-academe game. Straight Man is hilarious sport, with a serious side. William Henry Devereaux Jr., is almost 50 and stuck forever as chair of English at West Central Pennsylvania University. It is April and fear of layoffs--even among the tenured--has reached mock-epic proportions; Hank has yet to receive his department budget and finds himself increasingly offering comments such as "Always understate necrophilia" to his writing students. Then there are his possible prostate problems and the prospect of his father's arrival. Devereaux Sr., "then and now, an academic opportunist," has always been a high-profile professor and a low-profile parent.
Though Hank tries to apply William of Occam's rational approach (choose simplicity) to each increasingly absurd situation, and even has a dog named after the philosopher, he does seem to cause most of his own enormous difficulties. Not least when he grabs a goose and threatens to off a duck (sic) a day until he gets his budget. The fact that he is also wearing a fake nose and glasses and doing so in front of a TV camera complicates matters even further. Hank tries to explain to one class that comedy and tragedy don't go together, but finds the argument "runs contrary to their experience. Indeed it may run contrary to my own." It runs decidedly against Richard Russo's approach in Straight Man, and the result is a hilarious and touching novel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
William Henry Devereaux Jr. finds himself past midlife, chair of the English department at an academic backwater, not having produced a book in 20 years, embroiled in departmental politics, maybe about to lay off colleagues, maybe on the block himself. Much goes wrong, much of it hilarious. An insulted poet, for instance, smacks him with her notebook, the spiral binding of which pierces his nose, so that, sneezing, he sprays his white-suited boss with blood. Still, his relationships with his father, wife, daughter, and students occupy most of his time, until one day, wearing fake nose, glasses, and mustache, he threatens on TV to kill one of the campus ducks every day until his departmental budget is finalized, making the national morning talk shows. Pitched a couple notches more manic than Jon Hassler's otherwise similar Rookery Blues (LJ 4/15/96), this raises the usual questions about abridgments: Who is this character? Was that a reference to something excised? Nevertheless, this recording, aided by Hal Linden's bemused delivery, should enjoy the same popularity as the book.?John Hiett, Iowa City P.L.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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William Henry Devereaux Jr., is the interim chair of the English department at a small Pennsylvania college. He's losing his grip on his marriage, the department, his health, he thinks, and life in general. He's got angst, got ennui and he's got a fractious department to deal with.
In an unhinged moment he takes things out on a goose, he's named Finny in honor of one of the members of his department. In front of a TV news crew that has shown up to cover a groundbreaking, Henry grabs the wildly flapping and squawking goose by the neck and threatens to kill a fowl a day until the school administration approves his budget request.
We're only a day or two into Henry's week. His nose has already been pretty much mangled by a colleague, he's been tormented by thoughts that his wife is banging his dean, he's wondering if a ripe adjunct professor is trying to seduce him by leaving peach pits on his desk blotter and he's had to deal with his indomitable mother who says he lacks "high seriousness' and then accuses him of being a lightweight. "But the truth is that there's nothing more shallow than cleverness. You've become a clever man," she says.
And clever this book is. Glib it is not. It is also hilarious and once in awhile even poignant. It should be your next read.